A CD presenting a solo instrument is, in principle, not unusual. In fact, when it comes to a solo CD by a pianist, it is most likely the rule rather than the exception. It is true that musical thoughts thoroughly sound and come to life in the harmony and concertising, or the combined voices, of various instruments; but amongst musicians, most likely even from prehistoric times, there has always wandered and dwelled the recluse, who more or less prefers to lay trust in himself, and feels most at home in a duet between his musical genius and the instrument he plays. With the present release by clarinettist Jože Kotar, however, it would be difficult to assign the performer to this category, given his activity in the past decade, on the concert stage as well as on CD, whether as a chamber musician in a wind quintet, as a member of a clarinet sextet, or a primary element of a wind trio with flute and bassoon, whether standing before a symphony orchestra as a classical soloist, recording a CD with a string quartet, or a more unusual CD in a duo with harp, whether we see him as the driving force of a clarinet choir, or standing before or performing in a wind ensemble, or whether we listen to him as the first clarinet of the Slovene Philharmonic Orchestra, or at concerts of chamber orchestras performing in conjunction with events organised by the Society of Slovene Composers, tackling mainly contemporary music by domestic and foreign composers, and, not least: on many occasions alone with his ebony instrument engaging in the most demanding of performance challenges set for this instrument - challenges in which one can perhaps find the reason for this new CD of exclusively authentic solo works written in the last four decades, some created specifically for Kotar. Our descendants through the centuries will probably shake their heads and only with difficulty believe that one single person – Jože Kotar – was able to undertake so many endeavours, especially in view of the fact that the activities enumerated are only those in the area of musical performance; in addition to these, he works as a musical pedagogue, beginning with his position as an associate professor at the Ljubljana Academy of Music, then moving on to his participation as a regular member of the international jury of various competitions, and so on, and so on... In view of this, it is essential that we can take as much as possible of this incredible breadth of artistry that marks and brings to life the magical sound moment captured on this recording, and calmly present it to the non-believer: look and listen, it is all true.
But let us return to the point of departure of the present CD, on which the clarinet is established as a solo instrument. Amongst the selection on the CD are compositions which, one after another, demand the perfect technical mastery of the instrument and the utmost virtuosity of the soloist, while at the same time being a genuine exhibition, or survey, of all of the recent performance techniques at the soloist’s disposal, such as multiphonics (the simultaneous playing of more than one sound on a wind or brass instrument), the use of fingerings to produce intervals smaller than a semitone, the execution of a wide variety of sounds and noises of the instrument itself, whether generated by the vibration of the reed, or other sounds, produced either by hissing, vibrating the tongue, speaking into the instrument, by the chattering of keys, loud breathing, or playing or tapping on the component parts of the instrument. The recorded works are also an exposition of the more radical compositional techniques from the last half century, where the syntax of music is realised through the frequent use of extreme registers, extreme dynamics, extreme articulation, extreme tempos and an extremely complicated rhythmic flow.
Typical of this kind of composition are “Fleshold: at the crossing over” by Australian Matthew Bienek and “Cl.air” by the young Russian composer and clarinettist Alexey Sioumak, both of which Jože Kotar performed in the ISCM World Music Days held in Slovenia in 2003. Urška Pompe’s “Kolor” (Kotar, Olor - Latin “swan”), which dates from 2003 and is dedicated to Jože Kotar, also falls into this category of composition. Created with similar resources, but executed more as a contemporary rhapsody, is Lojze Lebič’s “Chalumeau”. Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza IXa”, from the already canonic set of post-war avant-garde solo pieces of the same title and by the same author, who, in his externally radical musical language, seeks an inner connection with the formal balance and economy of musical classicism. Along similar lines is Berio’s “Lied”. Similarly, Siberian Edison Denisov in his two movement “Sonata” for solo clarinet, and Croat Petar Bergamo in his “Concerto abbreviato” from six years later, in spite of their abundant use of the above mentioned extended performance techniques, do not completely sever their links with the older musical tradition: the former by establishing explicitly contrasting sound material in each of its two movements, which is undoubtedly a clear reference to the basic concept of classical sonata form, and the latter with its clearly delineated contrasting sections within a single movement concerto, and even with the old “tricks” of virtuoso single voice compositions in the manner of “The Carnival of Venice”, where the rapid alternation of two lines, in contrasting registers and with contrasting articulation and dynamics, creates the illusion of multiple voices with a leading melody and accompaniment.
Even more closely connected to the tradition is the four movement “Concerto” for solo clarinet by Valentino Bucchi. It's contrasting movements, which are played without a break (attacca), all share clearly recognisable repeated thematic material. Although the sound world calmly and sensitively employs the innovations of the time, the work remains connected to the spirit of Debussy’s celebrated work for solo flute - “Syrinx”, which the composer transposes to the musical world of the late 1960s. Amongst the selection of works on the present CD, probably the most unusual is “Solo pour la Nuit”, by Igor Dekleva. With its explicitly diatonic language, here and there decorated with contemporary wind performance techniques, which, however, do not encroach upon its basic diatonic fabric, it probably best represents a contemporary variant of the “concertante etude”.
And, as a closing thought: a CD by “Solo” clarinettist Jože Kotar is undoubtedly intended primarily for connoisseurs, who know how to enjoy and appreciate such music. But one learns to appreciate only when one enjoys, and let us hope that this CD will be devoted above all to just that.